Earlier this year we received board election information in the mail from an agricultural cooperative. As I paged through the candidate biographies, I was impressed by how experienced many of the individuals were as farm operators and involvement in their respective communities.
When I looked through it again, my impression started to change, not of them, but of the bigger picture. I started to wonder why there weren’t any younger farmers as candidates.There actually were two, one 28 and another 36. However, there majority of candidates were well over 50. I want to note, that I don’t want to discredit these seasoned farmers one bit. But, I started to see a glaring issue. Where is the representation from the younger generation of farmers? It’s not at the fault of the other candidates.
While the average age in our profession keeps ticking up, 57 years old based on current USDA numbers, there are younger farmers. I know them. Many of them are friends in my community and from college. I’m one of them. In the bigger picture, the ag community recognizes the need to support the next generation of farmers through specialized lending programs with Farm Credit and FSA, programs on succession planning, business planning, leadership development and other topics.
But why, when it comes to representing the farmer’s voice there’s limited representation of “young” farmers on ag boards and committees?. As agriculture and management styles continue to change, the next generation of farmers needs to have their voice at the table. Why isn’t it happening?
I can tell you from my own experience and conversations with friends, that it’s time. For me: we’re working off farm jobs, in addition to farming, have a young family, the farm is in the expansion stages and it’s just us running the show, with some occasional assistance from family that doesn’t live close. I’m not complaining. But, it’s a reality I know is true for many younger farmers. Here’s the deal. We need to make time for producer leadership roles. We have too. If we’re growing our farms, we need to be at the table in our communities, organizations and even agribusinesses. There’s potential for major disconnect with the next generation of farmers, when boards represent only those who are well into their career or even retired from farming.
I recently decided to walk the talk and joined my county Farm Bureau board. I also applied for another ag committee position, but wasn’t selected. But, that’s ok. That’s what taking chances is about. I know that if I didn’t express interest, there was zero chance of serving in that role. I’m considering applying again in the future. I challenge my peers to make the time, take the chance and step up into leadership roles. We need younger farmers represented in our agricultural and community organizations.